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But unrelated research in an entirely different field, analytical chemistry, soon came to the rescue.
Because it reacts strongly with other molecules, large concentrations of ozone near the ground prove toxic to living things.
At higher altitudes, where 90 percent of our planet's ozone resides, it does a remarkable job of absorbing ultraviolet radiation.
This biologically damaging, high-energy radiation can cause skin cancer, injure eyes, harm the immune system, and upset the fragile balance of an entire ecosystem.
Although, two decades ago, most scientists would have scoffed at the notion that industrial chemicals could destroy ozone high up in the atmosphere, researchers now know that chlorine creates the hole by devouring ozone molecules.
Such research spurred advances on two fronts: a substantial increase in the precision and accuracy of measurements of atmospheric gases and a striking decrease in the minimum concentration of a compound that must be present to be detected.
As a result, the number of atmospheric compounds identified by scientists has increased from 14 in the early 1950s to more than 3,000 today.According to a United Nations report, the annual dose of harmful ultraviolet radiation striking the northern hemisphere rose by 5 percent during the past decade.During the past 40 years, the world has seen an alarming increase in the incidence of malignant skin cancer; the rate today is tenfold higher than in the 1950s.In the absence of this gaseous shield in the stratosphere, the harmful radiation has a perfect portal through which to strike Earth.Although a combination of weather conditions and CFC chemistry conspire to create the thinnest ozone levels in the sky above the South Pole, CFCs are mainly released at northern latitudes—mostly from Europe, Russia, Japan, and North America—and play a leading role in lowering ozone concentrations around the globe.“The storm thundered and lightened, and the air was filled with sulfur,” Homer wrote in the Odyssey, referring to the sharp odor, created during thunderstorms, of what later became known as ozone. By measuring the spectrum of air, the Belgian scientist M. Migeotte demonstrated in 1948 that methane is a common constituent of the atmosphere with a concentration of about one part per million by volume.By the late 1800s, atmospheric scientists had isolated carbon monoxide and inferred the existence of a second combustible gas in the air, which they tentatively identified as methane, the simplest hydrocarbon. Soon, scientists had the tools to detect other atmospheric gases that occur in concentrations one-tenth to one-hundredth as great as that.Although the entire increase cannot be blamed on ozone loss and increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation, there is evidence of a relationship.Scientists estimate that for each 1 percent decline in ozone levels, humans will suffer as much as a 2 to 3 percent increase in the incidence of certain skin cancers.Years of study on the ground, in aircraft, and from satellites has conclusively identified the source of the chlorine: human-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that have been used in spray cans, foam packaging, and refrigeration materials.Ozone is a relatively simple molecule, consisting of three oxygen atoms bound together.